Breasts are composed of ducts, milk glands, and fatty and fibrous tissues. Fibrocystic disease occurs when there are fluid-filled lumps (cysts) of duct tissue. These lumps are surrounded by a scar-like capsule of tissue in the breasts.
Although harmless, these lumps can sometimes be the site of pain (mastalgia ) that recurs late in each menstrual cycle. The greatest problem with fibrocystic disease is telling the difference between this condition and breast cancer .
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The glandular tissue of the breasts cycles monthly with menstrual periods. It enlarges to prepare for a pregnancy, and then shrinks if one does not occur. This cycling causes cysts and excess fibrous tissue to build up. Virtually all women will have some form of this condition during their reproductive years. However, most women will not seek treatment.
All women between puberty and menopause are at risk for this condition.
Symptoms may include:
- Multiple lumps (cysts) in both breasts that cycle with menstrual periods
- Cysts that may produce no symptoms or cause pain and tenderness
A fibrocystic lump may be difficult to tell apart from a cancerous mass. But, its rapid disappearance with menses and reappearance in the next menstrual cycle help to distinguish this condition from breast cancer.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Images may be taken of your breasts. This can be done with a mammogram .
Once it has been determined that the lump is not a cancer, it can be left alone. If the lump's identity is still in doubt, it should be biopsied.
Treatment may include:
- Needle aspiration—If the fluid is removed, the cyst usually resolves.
- Biopsy (removal) of the suspicious area
After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, a small needle is inserted into the lump. This is to draw fluid out. If the lump disappears, cancer is highly unlikely. If the lump remains, or if the fluid withdrawn is bloody, it will need to be examined to see if cancer is present.
There are 2 types of biopsies:
- A fine needle biopsy is nearly identical to an aspiration. The only difference is that a tiny piece of tissue is also drawn out of the lump.
- An excisional biopsy removes the entire lump through a surgical incision. This can be done with local anesthesia if the lump is small and superficial.
Once cancer has been ruled out, fibrocystic disease may be safely treated with observation and conservative measures, including:
There are not current guidelines to prevent fibrocystic disease. The most important issue for you and your doctor is being able to distinguish this condition from breast cancer. Follow your doctor's guidelines for regular breast cancer screening.
- Marcie Sidman, MD
- Reviewed: 06/2016
- Updated: 05/11/2013
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